Photojournalism Tips for Covering a Sporting Event

The following story is a brief documentary of my day as a photojournalist for a big sporting event.


If you are associated with LSU and would like to view the entire photo gallery, you can visit the link here: The gallery is protected and closed to orders. So, if you would like to access the gallery to obtain any of the images please contact Laurie Cannon in the LSU Athletic Department for access and additional information.


A little background.

Few things could prepare me for the day I experienced Sat, Oct 20th, 2007. Hopefully my experience will help prepare you for your big event.


I arrived on campus around 9:00 am...and by 1:00 am...had recorded over 1700 images from all over campus. It was an exciting day, from start to finish. I have written up this page to help those interested in shooting their Current Events 6 weeks topic and/or for those who may be interested in Photojournalism as a career. When covering a big event,  it helps to prepare ahead of time to know what to expect, and plan what to focus on, such as key people, or specific angles.


Shooting for news coverage is very exciting...something I have ALWAYS enjoyed. Those who work in the photojournalism field do so for the excitement...and thrill of being in the middle of the action...not for the money. So, despite 4 years of shooting for the Lamar University Press and really liking Photojournalism, I choose to teach photography rather than pursue a job in the field of PJ. Having been to LSU games all my life, I knew it would be exciting. But, to have a press pass, to photograph on the sidelines or at the actual scene, of any event, is MUCH different than observing it from afar. Ever since my days at the LU Press...I had always wanted to take pictures at an LSU game...especially after Lamar canceled their football program (restarted in the Fall of 2010). In addition, the last LSU game I attended was when LSU beat Auburn in 2003...and then went on to win the National Championship. So, the opportunity to shoot this game was even more special.


Overall, I got some good pictures. Despite shooting hundreds of events over the last 20 years, from weddings to sports, my lack of experience with an event of this magnitude, less than the best equipment, equipment malfunction, and some rookie errors, resulted in some ok images. Shooting sports, particularly football, is probably one of the more difficult areas of photography.


One of the things I have learned myself in shooting sports is how passionate those who are involved in the game can be. I hope you enjoy the pictures...and for my students...I hope you find inspiration to pursue what you want...whether it be on the field...or off...with what ever is your passion. Specifically, as you cover events for class assignments, review this page to assist you in capturing the event.


Be sure to arrive early.

Don't just show up to cover the action...cover the facility...the operations to get the facility ready...the behind the scenes operations. Try to get the behind the scenes activity of people setting up and getting ready.  Look for the great photo opps as they appear of people arriving and/or celebrating. With LSU Tiger games, game day starts really early in the day. Eventually I will post some pictures of those already on the scene at 9:00 a.m.!


Here are some shots from just before the game with a march down victory lane.

This was very exciting because of being able to follow along the action...being much more apart of the event than just as a bystander.



Here are some action shots from before the game.

This is always a nice time to shoot...because flash generally can not be used. Shooting sports is difficult because of lighting. Fortunately, Tiger Stadium is MUCH brighter then our Durley Stadium. One of my challenges was that I was using a borrowed I was being even MORE careful than I would have been with mine. But, something was still wrong with the borrowed camera in that it would not allow a memory card larger than 512mb. Which is only 48 pictures on high res. So, I made a bad decision (in hindsight) and went to Medium Sized me about 98 per card. Unfortunately, this was still rather limiting when shooting up to 8 frames per second. If you are planning on shooting any West Brook football...the games earliest in the season will be your best opportunity because of the sun setting around kick off. You will be able to take some pregame photos around 6:00 to 6:30...and get some wonderful shots. Also, if you can photograph a day game you will be able to get the best photos. In fact, at a day game, you have to be careful that your lens does not close down forcing deep depth of field. You will notice the very shallow depth of field in these photos because of shooting wide op (f/2.8) as is necessary for a night time game. During a day game...if you aren't careful...your camera may automatically shift to f/8. All the more reason to nearly always shoot in Aperture Priority.





Then the action began.

This first series of shots are from the first LSU score. Like I mentioned above...I stayed out of the working press' way as much as I I didn't run up and down the field with them...and stayed put waiting for the action to return to my end. This touch down with Keiland Williams came right down my side. One thing you should be careful about when shooting sports is to always keep an eye on the action. With sports, the action can come your way very quickly, so be prepared with your equipment for impact...or get out of the way! See YouTube Video. This happens pretty frequently...such as this past weekends game against Louisiana Tech...which saw both a photog, an official AND a security guard get hit on three different plays.



And another TD went right in front of my face. This was one of my big mistakes of the night. My midrange lens/camera was set with a focus limiter (to improve the focus speed at a distance by eliminating the near object range). Jacob Hester came so close to right in front of me...that one, I couldn't focus...and two, my lens was too long. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to grab the 3rd camera out of it's protective bag. This just reiterates the need for the right equipment. I actually had the right equipment, it was just in for repair and I just wasn't willing to risk somebody else's camera to being run over, like the poor photographer in the Louisiana Tech game. (BTW, this TD was also the only scene I know of where I was visible on ESPN. :)



#18 was Jacob Hester. He didn't make the touch down, but he did on the next play. I was SO impressed with what a sincere and hard working athlete he was always pushing for more yardage after the initial contact.




Be sure to cover the entire event. A lot of sports photographers will arrive to shoot their shots, and then leave once they KNOW they have what they need for their publication. Of course, they have deadlines and other events to cover. But you really should try to cover the entire event. You may be rewarded with some really special shots, especially if there is an emotional victory. My celebration shots are REALLY less than desirable. If you didn't see this game, the last minute was the quickest minute of any football game EVER!! Nobody called a time out, there were no first downs, and no incomplete passes to stop the clock. LSU must have been hoping Auburn would call a time out. Auburn must have been thinking LSU would use their last time out, then it was the last play, and then it was over! If you are used to watching ANY football, you know the last two minutes can take 10-15 minutes, with time outs, commercials, etc. Well, they don't call it the two minute offense for nothing. Anyway, it was just over, and then everybody was celebrating. I was still lugging around my 400mm lens over my shoulder, trying to switch lenses between camera #2 and #3 and attach my flash. Camera settings were all still set for the no flash period of the game, etc. So, my tip to you? Be ready for the end...before the end. Celebrations don't last long. Look for the classic shots along the sidelines like the coach getting the water jug dumped on them.



Here are some other shots from the game:

Dorsey was an amazing player. Unfortunately, he was knocked down pretty hard on two different occasions (one of which was a VERY questionable hit). Always look for the human angle of the game. I stayed away from the sidelines at this event since I wasn't one of the "regulars", but when covering our school events, I always try to get the trainers working with the players, or the coaches talking to the players. Look for the side profiles shots of players as they express their excitement...or their frustrations.



Look for the drama at the event.

This scene of the Auburn Coach arguing with the ref went on for over 1 minute. I can't read lips...but I suspect the ref said something like..."I am about to pull a flag on you!". When shooting sports, it is important to always have your camera ready to shoot as you never know when something may happen. Try not to cull through your images during the event. Instead, be looking around for the sideline shots...and other shots that may develop very quickly.




Here is view from another photographer in the stands. He posted this picture on a public forum, which I noticed, and looked and saw my self. This reminds me of a funny story.


Shoot the Support Team:

Always look for shots around the event. Look for those who support the event from the sidelines. The event organizers may be interested in your pictures for their own publications. For class assignments, when you cover one could easily be acquiring images that will cover for other assignments as well. Just remember to shoot at least 12 pictures of any additional topics. In generall, shooting a sporting even will cover you for at least TWO topics...sports...and Current Events. Shoot the ACTION for your SPORTS ACTION...and the SIDELINES for your CURRENT EVENT. In addition, any photos of school events need to be submitted to the Journalism Department to be included in the yearbook and newspaper. They are frequently use our if you get some good shots...get with me on how to get your images to them.



The Press Photographers

I pretty much stayed out of the way of the working press...which put me further away from the action. Shooting with your own equipment is a lot different than shooting with company equipment. I was also borrowing a camera (thanks Parrish!) as one of my main cameras died the week before the big game...which meant I had to be even more careful and which did affect my willingness to go after some shots. As you can see...three cameras is quite normal...and a necessity. I kept one camera in a bag just incase I got clobbered on the sideline.


Before the game...laptops ready for images to be sent to papers around the country. During halftime...with photographers frantically culling and preparing their images for upload.




The reason three cameras are necessary is that it isn't feasible to change lenses in a sport that can move the action your direction in a matter of seconds. Generally, you would want one camera for each of the three main focal lengths. 400-600mm: These are the really big lenses you see on the sidelines...for when the action is 30+ yards away. You aren't allowed to shoot between the 25 yard lines...and as I found out...not really between the 10s unless you want to sit knee cap to knee cap with another photographer. The reason the lenses are so big is to allow a large amount of light to allow for as fast of shutter speed as possible. A 600mm f/4 will bring in the action from a long ways away...for a small fee of $10k. Fortunately, my manual focus, 400mm/3.5 was a LOT less (thanks Rick!). 70-200: This lens is for when the players are about 20-30 yards away. 17-55: For when the players are right in front of you.


I am on the right (below) 400mm lens was along the fence waiting for the game to start.


I'll add more to detail my experience and to add more tips as soon as I cull through the pictures. This project has been plagued with equipment challenges like no other. First, the broken camera before the game...then a computer hard drive failing. Fortunately, I keep triplicate copies of most pictures, but still very time consuming to sort through the challenge. Argh! Anyway...enjoy...and check back later for some more photos. :)


As a summary note, the year that I was able to photograph this game, the Tigers went on to win the National Championship (2007). Ironically, the last game I had gone to prior to this game, 2003, was also LSU- Aurburn and the LSU Tigers won the National Championship that year as well. Here are some images (not by me) as the Tigers celebrate the NC:



Focus References to wins by the tigers:

2010-09-30 I'll call it the 13th Man Miracle...with the Tigers winning AFTER the game was over and the other team thought they had won.

2010-10-11 Another last minute, come from behind, controversial victory. Amazing! Still have a chance at the NC! I am a believer, a POSITIGER!

Want to see an interesting story? See The Day I got to Shoot a Tiger game from the Sideline!